HIV and AIDS
It’s week seven here in Mulanje and the topic we are speaking about in this week’s blog is awareness campaigns. The group have been very busy spreading awareness on environmental issues and HIV and AIDS in the local communities, mainly to youth groups. Team Sapitwa have worked with four youth groups so far and plan to conduct more campaigns before their placement comes to an end in a few weeks.
The importance of conducting awareness campaigns is vital to the youth in the community as information is sometimes hard to come by, internet access and libraries are not easily accessible. So the alternative action is to spread vocal awareness, giving the youth the tools to take action and spread the word to others.
Over the course of the last few weeks the group has been campaigning with a number of youth groups within the Mulanje community. These include Nansambe, Chitapata, Navivi and Manjunjule. During these youth campaigns the youth groups were very hospitable offering warm welcomes and hosting dramas, poems, comedies and lots of dancing! It was very heart-warming to see the local communities listen to what we had to say on the topics that were discussed. An average of 300-400 people would turn up to these events, including village Chiefs, which would enhance public awareness. Our main target audience would be to crowds in the age range of 5-30, however our campaigns generated so much excitement that we would end up with people aged between 1-99.
One of the key themes in our awareness campaign was HIV and AIDS. This was a very sensitive subject to talk about as a large portion of Malawians are affected by the conditon, therefore we had to be very careful on how we approached this issue.
Many Malawians are committed to the prevention and spread of HIV, so much so that circumcision is widely advised to all. Circumcision can reduce the risk of vaginal-to-penile transmission by anywhere from 51% to 60%. HIV and AIDS is a global epidemic, and the world needs to pool its resources as much as possible to fight this tragedy.
In 2013 it was estimated that 910,000 people in Malawi were effected by HIV. This is a very significant rate for the country as Malawi’s population is just over 15 million. When conducting these awareness campaigns we talk about the ABC rule which is Abstain, Be faithful and if you can’t do A and B use a Condom! Condoms were also distributed at the events to promote the practice of safe sex. Something quite commonly seen in Malawi is the youth using condoms as footballs. They would blow them up and then put things inside them to make a solid ball that they can play with. It is sad to see how much a football can make a difference and the fact that the youth have to resort to using condoms. We therefore encourage the donation of sports equipment to engage youth about HIV and AIDS and to prevent the misuse of condoms.
Another key theme running throughout the campaigns is environmental conservation. Team Sapitwa have been tackling issues involving conservation, such as why it is important to plant trees, keep the community clean and manage waste efficiently. It has been very inspiring to see youth groups taking action on these issues through soulful poems and spectacular drama performances. One group we encountered in particular is the MAYESLO Youth Club. This group focuses on utilising recycled paper to make books and photo frames to promote waste management. This may be a small contribution to the problem but it really shows the efforts being made in the local community to make a difference.
Gazing down the main road, one can see that waste management could play a larger role in the community as plastic bags are seen almost everywhere. One source of this problem is, amongst the food shortages, that people are served chips on the roadside in plastic bags which are then thrown straight on to the floor. We should note that fried chips are very popular here in Mulanje! Team Sapitwa have talked about waste management with youth groups and schools. Most recently the Team donated two waste bins to the Mulanje Boma Community Day Secondary School to promote waste management. It’s very encouraging for the team to see the youth take an interest in the issue of waste, albeit there will always be that one person who thinks it is not worth the time of day to listen but this is the world we live in. We must challenge this view!
FOMO Independent Secondary School
The most frequent activity we carried out was tree planting. We met with the Wildlife Club at FOMO Secondary School where we planted their seedlings with them, which were sourced from the nursery established by the previous group of Progressio ICS volunteers. The school was very happy to see a charity show interest in the environment. Our inspiration for the visit stemmed from our understanding that tree planting in Mulanje is a necessity, as a lot of tree species are under threat from people cutting them down for wood and charcoal. One tree in particular is the Mulanje cedar, which is only found on the Mulanje Mountain. Early in the morning you can see people carrying planks of cedar on their heads all the way down the mountain to sell them at the market. This is one of the main issues that Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust are challenged with and as part of the WESM Team we are spreading the word that ‘for every one tree cut down 10 must be replanted to sustain the need for the trees’.
Written by ICS volunteers Harry Maganga and Andrew Hines, and edited by Ali Reza Khorasany